10 “Poison pills” for pets

By isak, April 10, 2012

Anyone who takes medication prescribed for someone else puts themselves at risk of illness or even death – and this applies to your pets, too! Although there are many medications used in both animals and people, the effects, doses needed, and other things aren’t always the same.

About one-quarter of all phone calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) are about human medications. Your pet can easily ingest dropped pills or may be given harmful human medications by an unknowing owner, resulting in illness, or even death, of your pet.

The APCC provided us with the 10 most common human medication complaints they receive. Here they are, in order based on the number of complaints:

  1. Ibuprofen – Ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) is the most common human medication ingested by pets. Many brands have a sweet outer coating that makes it appealing to pets (think “M&M,” but a potentially deadly one). Ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers and kidney failure.
  2. Tramadol – Tramadol (Ultram®) is a pain reliever. Your veterinarian may prescribe it for your pet, but only at a dose that’s appropriate for your pet – never give your medication to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian! Too much tramadol can cause sedation or agitation, wobbliness, disorientation, vomiting, tremors and possibly seizures.
  3. Alprazolam – Alprazolam (Xanax®) is prescribed as an anti-anxiety medication and a sleep-aid. Most pets that ingest alprazolam can become sleepy and wobbly; however a few will become very agitated instead. These pills are commonly ingested by pets as people put them out on the nightstand so they remember to take them. Large doses of alprazolam can drop the blood pressure and could cause weakness or collapse.
  4. Adderall® – Adderall® is a combination of four different amphetamines and is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. This medication doesn’t have the same effect in pets as it does in people; it acts as a stimulant in our pets and causes elevated heart rate and body temperature, along with hyperactivity, tremors and seizures.
  5. Zolpidem – Zolpidem (Ambien®) is a sleep-aid for people. Pets commonly eat pills left on the bedside table. Zolpidem may make cats wobbly and sleepy, but most pets become very agitated and develop elevated heart rates.
  6. Clonazepam – Clonazepam (Klonopin®) is used as an anticonvulsant and anti-anxiety medication. It is sometimes also prescribed as a sleep-aid. When animals ingest clonazepam they can become sleep and wobbly. Too much clonazepam can lower the blood pressure, leading to weakness or collapse.
  7. Acetaminophen – Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is a very common pain killer found in most households. Cats are extremely sensitive to acetaminophen, but dogs can be affected too. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. It can also cause damage to your pet’s red blood cells so that the cells are unable to carry oxygen – like your body, your pet’s body needs oxygen to survive.
  8. Naproxen – Naproxen (Aleve®, Naprosyn®) is an over-the-counter pain reliever. Dogs and cats are very sensitive to naproxen and even small amounts can cause stomach ulcers and kidney failure.
  9. Duloxetine – Duloxetine (Cymbalta®) is prescribed as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety agent. When ingested by pets it can cause agitation, vocalization, tremors and seizures.
  10. Venlafaxine – Venlafaxine (Effexor®) is an antidepressant. For some unknown reason, cats love to eat the capsules. Ingestion can cause agitation, vocalization, tremors and seizures.

As you can tell from this list, a medication that does one thing for people does not necessarily do the same for our pets. And although this may be the list of the medications about which the APCC receives the largest numbers of complaints, remember that any human medication could pose a risk to your pets – not just these 10.

You can keep your pets safe by following simple common sense guidelines:

  • Always keep human medications away from pets unless you are specifically instructed by a veterinarian to give the medication;
  • Do not leave pills sitting on counter or any place a pet can get to them;
  • Do not leave pill bottles within reach of pets (You’ll be surprised how fast your dog can chew through a pill bottle.);
  • If you’re taking medications out of the bottle and you drop any of it, pick it up immediately so you know your pet won’t be able to eat it;
  • Always contact your veterinarian if your pet has ingested any medication not prescribed for them;
  • Never give your medication (or any medications prescribed for a two-legged family member) to your pet without first consulting a veterinarian.

…and last, but not least, always keep the number for your veterinarian and the APCC handy. You don’t want to be looking for it in an emergency situation! Feel free to print this page, cut out the box below, fill out the info, and put it in a handy place (or maybe a few handy places).



Emergency animal clinic:


ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center:

(888) 426-4435

reprinted from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website


  1. Chelsea Martin says:

    I have a cat that is having a allergic reaction to fleas and has scabs from itching and bitting. What’s a could cream to put for the itching to help her.

    • isak says:

      Until she is flea-free, she will continue to scratch and bite. Anything you apply to her for itching will only be a temporary fix and not for very long. You can buy a product called diatomaceous earth (DE) and comb it into her coat. This will kill fleas and will not hurt your cat. It’s rather dusty, so don’t breathe in the dust (you or your cat). While harmless to humans or pets, it is lethal to fleas because of its tiny but incredibly sharp edges that can slice right through the pest’s tough, waxy, exoskeleton. The fleas then die of dehydration. It is important that you only use food grade diatomaceous earth — any other kind is not approved for use on animals or humans, not to mention it will be too finely ground to kill the fleas. Food grade can be safely used externally and internally in both humans and animals, which means that when your cat goes to lick itself off, DE won’t hurt it.

      A lesser successful way to rid her of fleas is to rub her down with apple cider vinegar. Mix 1 part apple cider vinegar with 1 part water. It repels fleas and even temporarily relieves itching, but you don’t want to overdo it because it can remove needed oils from her coat.

      Once the fleas are gone, her biting will stop and the scabs will heal and you will both be happy.

  2. sherry says:

    I have a 65lb labrador and i was wondering what is the correct dose of amoxicillin she should be given at that weight?

  3. Debbie says:

    My beautiful dog Sadie, was dx with a lung mass and give 3 months. Previous to this I had taken her to my regular vet for arthritic pain, tramadol 100mg every 12 hours was prescribed, her pain dramatically decreased. The lung mass diagnosed by another vet was found with her symptom rapid panting even in a cool room. She went on to live another 3 years, it was almost like having her as a puppy again… Apparently tramadol worked against her lung mass and shrunk it… She was 17 when she died .. Of CVA ( stroke) r/t the tramadol? We will never know.. But I do believe the longevity was all because of tramadol?

  4. jennifer keith says:

    I just found this, and I had a dog 3 yrs ago she was 13, her vet prescribed her tramadol, my dog died, with in a couple weeks and had all these side effects listed. When we got the medicine I had no idea about possible side effects we had no papers about it or anything maybe, this isn’t why my dog died, but I will never let anyone prescribe it to another of my pets

  5. Dorothy says:

    I was reading an article but lost it. It was about allergies and yeast blooms. I came upon a picture that looked similar to what my dog has. I have spent over $1000 vet bills trying to find out what she had with no results. The vet did exactly as was mentioned in the article. The article on yeast blooms, good and bad bacteria and a solution was fooled but I didn’t get to finish reading it before I hit something and lost the article. Can you please help me find it again?

    • isak says:

      I’m sorry, I’m not sure which article you are talking about. Often allergies and yeast can be related to diet. What are the problems you are seeing with your dog?

  6. Andrea says:

    Very helpful!

    Not that it’s important to the article, but FYI: Adderall is as much a stimulant for humans as it is for cats. In fact, the symptoms you list are all overdose symptoms for humans. (I do feel justified now for not using the same pill splitter I use for my Adderall to split a pill prescribed for my cat.)

What do you think?

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